[Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia] Malay lunch options at ๐—ž๐—ฎ๐—ณ๐—ฒ ๐—•๐˜‚๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐—ธ ๐—•๐—ผ๐˜€๐˜€

Bukit Mertajam is a small town in Province Wellesley, Penangโ€™s hinterland on mainland Malaysia, which is accessible from the island via the 8-mile-long Penang Bridge. In Malay, Bukit Mertajam means โ€œPointed Hillโ€, a reference to the highest point of the mountain range which is visible from Penang Island.

200 years ago, hardy Huizhou-Hakkas from Fujian, China, settled on the foothills of the 1,800-foot hill, and started farming the land. Hence, the Fujianese name for the town: โ€œTua Sua Kaโ€ (Chinese: ๅคงๅฑฑ่…ณ), meaning โ€œFoot of the Big Hillโ€.

But the area has been inhabited much longer than that โ€“ relics in the compound of St Anneโ€™s Church, one of Bukit Mertajamโ€™s major landmarks, showed Indian Pali inscriptions dating back to the 5th-century AD.

Today, Bukit Mertajam is well-known for the Feast of St Anne, an annual 10-day Roman Catholic festival which attracts upwards of 100,000 pilgrims each year.

But the biggest religious festival in Bukit Mertajam is the annual Taoist Hungry Ghost Festival, which culminates in a burning of the effigy of the King of Hades. The festival is observed throughout Chinese communities in East Asia, and the biggest one in Malaysia is actually held here, in this town.

But there was no religious festival last Sunday when we decided to make an excursion to Bukit Mertajam. In fact, we planned it that way since itโ€™s never a good idea to visit Bukit Mertajam during a long weekend or festive season - the townโ€™s narrow centuries-old streets would be jam-packed with cars, and the townโ€™s cafes and eateries could hardly accommodate the crush of visitors and pilgrims.

Since 3 out of our party of 7 are Muslims, we chose to have lunch in a halal Malay restaurant: ๐—ž๐—ฎ๐—ณ๐—ฒ ๐—•๐˜‚๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐—ธ ๐—•๐—ผ๐˜€๐˜€, perhaps the best-known Muslim eatery near the old town centre.

Iโ€™d visited the town numerous times in the past few years, but never explored Malay-Muslim cuisine here before, so it was a great opportunity to do so.

โ€œBudakโ€ in Malay means โ€œboyโ€, so I guess the youngish owner, Muhammad Amar bin Mustafa aka the โ€œBoy Bossโ€ mustโ€™ve started off managing his eatery at a very early age. He was actually busy grilling the satay skewers himself when we showed up for lunch there:

Nothing beats Malay ๐˜€๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ฎ๐˜† grilled over open flames in a charcoal brazier

Malay-style chicken satay consisted of tender chicken meat which had been marinated in blend of spices: chilis, lemongrass, shallots, turmeric, ginger, galangal, and other aromatics. Itโ€™s good enough to eat on its own, even without its accompanying peanut sauce

The peanut sauce dip is a must-have for any satay meal. Itโ€™s made from coarsely-ground fried groundnuts, tamarind juice, sugar, and a spice blend which consisted of dried chilis, cumin, coriander, garlic, galangal & lemongrass.

Absolutely one of the best satays Iโ€™d had in recent times.

Another one of Budak Boyโ€™s signature dishes is the grilled lamb chop (Malay: ๐—ธ๐—ฎ๐—บ๐—ฏ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜€๐—ฎ๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ถ). Itโ€™s cut into strips, garnished with raw onions and cucumber, and served with a tamarind-based dip. Very well-done indeed - moist, tender, smoky lamb-meat.

๐—ž๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐˜† ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ฎ๐˜‚ ๐—ฏ๐—ฎ๐˜€๐—ฎ๐—ต - this is a Malay version of the Chinese fried koay teow (flat rice noodle) dish. But whilst the Chinese version is wok-fried, the Malay version is braised, with copious amount of gravy which tasted very sweet. The main flavours in the dish came from the prawns and blood cockles, some blended chilis, onions and garlic, and a generous amount of sugar. Itโ€™s gluggy and (intentionally) messy on the plate. It was my first time having this dish, which Iโ€™d heard so much about.

Not really my kind of taste, but Iโ€™m very sure itโ€™s got its fans:

๐— ๐—ฒ๐—ฒ ๐—ด๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ธ๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—ฝ - another house specialty: this oneโ€™s fried noodles in a dark, sweet soy sauce. Itโ€™s very, and I do mean very sweet! Itโ€™s like eating fried noodles coated in molasses.

Ayam percik - flame-grilled chicken, marinated in galangal, shallots, ginger & coconut milk. This dish originated from the North-east state of Kelantan. Everyone else in Malaysia has copied the dish, but no one makes it as well as the Kelantanese. The one here, though it didnโ€™t taste authentically Kelantanese, was very good in its own right: moist, juicy, smoky-aromatic chicken pieces which were positively bursting with delicious flavours.

Surprisingly, 3 in our party opted for the ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐˜€๐—ถ ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—บ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฟ, basically steamed white rice, accompanied by oneโ€™s choice of side-dishes, which one can select from the cooked dishes displayed at the self-service counter:

Their choice of side-dishes included:
Daging masak hitam - blackened beef, which was beef strips braised in dark soy sauce and sugar, red chilis, shallots, onions, garlic & ginger

Fried eggs, blanketed in a sweet-sour tomato gravy

Fried tofu, with sweet chili sauce

Crisp batter-fried chicken

Long beans, cooked with chilis, onions, turmeric & egg

The cafe also offered its own range of ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐—ฑ๐—ถ๐—ต ๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐˜‚๐—ฝ - Malay milk curd dessert, so-called as the pudding-like curd is soft enough to be consumed through a straw.

Address
Kafe Budak Boss
562A,Jalan Sungai Rambai, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6017-471 2085
Opening hours: 6am to 12 midnight

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I usually donโ€™t mind some sweetness in my food, although not too much. Last time I was in our favourite Cantonese place in Chinatown, I ordered what was described as โ€œpork in Cantonese sauceโ€. The server advised against it saying the chef did make it very sweet and I wouldnt enjoy it, so I changed my order. Maybe next time, Iโ€™ll insist on ordering it - just to see.

In general, Malay food is much sweeter than Chinese food, as sugar is a favoured condiment in their cooking.

In Malaysia, Malays constitute over 50% of the population, and they are all Muslims. The Chinese are about 20% of the population, and are either Christian (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist), Buddhist or Taoist.

I usually ask visiting Arab (and also Jewish) colleagues or friends to patronize Malay restaurants & eateries, since they will be assured of halal food. But my Arab colleagues said they found Malay food to be way too sweet for their taste. Until I heard that from the Arabs for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, I didnโ€™t actually realise that.

Now, I make a list of all Malay food items, and realised that almost everything would be considered sweet from the Middle-Eastern perspective! Even Malay curry puffs with spiced potato filling has sugar added to it!

As for Chinese food, the regional ones with very pronounced sweetness are Shanghainese and, to a certain extent, the sweet-sour dishes of Cantonese cuisine. The other regional ones like Teochew (Chiuchow/Chaozhou), Hokkien (Fujianese) or the Northern dishes wonโ€™t be sweet.

But I do notice that Chinese eateries, particularly takeaways, in the US (especially) and UK, really turned up the sweetness factor.

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